Everyone Else Outsources, So Why Can't The Arts? In Columbus, Ohio, nonprofit arts groups are doing what U.S. businesses have done for decades: outsourcing. Financially beleaguered arts groups are handing over the "back office" to CAPA, an organization that handles finances, marketing, ticketing and fundraising ... stuff that artists don't really like doing anyway.
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Everyone Else Outsources, So Why Can't The Arts?

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Everyone Else Outsources, So Why Can't The Arts?

Everyone Else Outsources, So Why Can't The Arts?

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The recession has taken its toll on many nonprofit groups, but it's also forced them to be more efficient. In Columbus, Ohio, a number of arts groups are now doing what American businesses started doing a long time ago: outsourcing. A group of theaters across the state are handing over their back offices to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, or CAPA.

As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, CAPA now manages their finances, marketing, ticketing and fundraising.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Artistically, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra has a very good reputation.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: But financially it's been a mess for some time. The recession nearly killed the orchestra altogether.

Mr. ROLAND VALLIERE (President, Columbus Symphony): It was a matter of running out of cash.

BLAIR: Roland Valliere is president of the Columbus Symphony. He says the symphony took drastic measures to save the orchestra: layoffs, fewer concerts, pay cuts. Then they were left with such a small administrative staff it was nearly impossible to get everything done.

Mr. VALLIERE: So, it was like having a shortstop covering second and third base at the same time and expecting to, you know, win the World Series. It just wasn't going to happen.

BLAIR: So Valliere went to Bill Conner, president of CAPA, the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts.

Mr. BILL CONNER (President, Columbus Association for the Performing Arts): and we were able to craft an agreement where we're providing complete back office support for the symphony, and it'll cut about $750,000 out of next year's budget.

BLAIR: In the last year and a half, CAPA has made similar arrangements with five other cultural organizations, either handling their back office or managing them outright. That's in addition to the four theaters CAPA owns.

CAPA has 73 employees. It's bigger than most individual arts groups. Conner says it attracts experienced professionals, and that means a lot to Steven Anderson, one of CAPA's clients.

Mr. STEVEN ANDERSON (Artistic Director, Phoenix Children's Theater): Instead of having a beginning marketing person, a beginning development person or half of a beginning development person, we have pieces of really smart people.

BLAIR: Anderson is the artistic director of the Phoenix Children's Theater in Columbus. To save money, the Phoenix recently merged with another theater company and hired CAPA to handle its back office.

Mr. TERENCE WOMBLE (Advertising, Promotions Manager, CAPA): I'm Terence Womble and I am the advertising and promotions manager for CAPA.

BLAIR: Terence Womble says instead of all these arts groups having their own PR directors...

Mr. WOMBLE: I just work like a slave and do it all.

BLAIR: When Womble buys advertising space, he gets a better rate because he's buying in bulk.

Mr. WOMBLE: So, we're sort of the Sam's Club of arts advertising and marketing.

Ms. RUSSELL WILLIS TAYLOR (President, CEO, National Arts Strategies): CAPA has some outstanding clients. They wouldn't be using CAPA's services if they weren't good.

BLAIR: Russell Willis Taylor is president and CEO of National Arts Strategies, a group that advises arts groups all over the country. She likes the idea of CAPA, but she believes arts groups that use them need to be careful about giving up key relationships.

Ms. TAYLOR: So, for example, if you outsource building your relationships - not just ticket sales but communicating with your audience - what's the opportunity cost of that?

BLAIR: Talk to people who work in the arts in Columbus, Ohio and they joke that CAPA's taking over. The local newspaper recently ran a cartoon of a man with the word CAPA on his suit. On his back he's holding up a heavy load: an orchestra, an opera company, a theater company and a botanical garden.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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